ICA Chile revisits a bakery that changed a village

W&W 46 ChileOne of the dreams of the women in Sol de September when the ICA Chile Human Development Project was initiated in 1978 was to set up a bakery. With the help of the ICA staff, especially Don Hopkins, a group of 22 women formed a society. They aimed to become independent entrepreneurs and increase their family’s income.

Their husbands toiled as farmers to support their families and settle the huge debts they had with the Corporation of Agriculture Reform and Chilectra, which supplied them the electricity that let them irrigate their farms from their 80-metre-deep wells.

The women’s plans were criticized by many members of the community as impractical. But they managed to organize themselves, and began baking “empanadas” (a sort of native pie) and producing various sweets that they sold to their own community. They went on to bake bread that they even managed to occasionally sell in Santiago, with the help of neighbours visiting the city, about 30 kilometres away.

With their earnings and a loan backed by ICA Chile, they bought a piece of land from the Municipality of Lampa. There they built a 90-square-metre facility with a kitchen for the bakery, sales rooms, two bathrooms and a cellar. This was an important economic, social and cultural milestone for Sol de Septiembre.

The women increased their family income and were even able to contribute towards community activities such as a Children Of The Sol nutrition programme. This provided lunch and tea every day for a group of 55 children aged between three and 15 years. The women who owned and worked in the bakery received three kilograms of bread for each shift they worked. The cashier received 4,500 pesos per month and the coordinator, 3,300. In case of sickness or other needs, the partners received monetary help ranging from 2.000 to 2.500 pesos.

In 1984, the bakery was razed by a fire. The partners started their work all over again. They received funding from abroad, through some people who had been with the ICA during 1978 to 1982, and a loan from the Office of Peasants Help under the Archbishop of Santiago.

In spite of these difficulties, the 22 women were able to stand up, find out how to get funding for their project and rebuilt their bakery. The accomplishment has been a cultural change for the women. They showed that they could assume new roles without having to leave their homes. Their husbands have gradually understood and now, together with their children, they fully support the process. The bakery has been important for the community’s sense of its present and future as well.

The bakery is now a society with specific rules, The women, who are now too old to work there, rent out the facility. The money they receive is distributed equally among the members of the society.

This post was first published in Winds & Waves, December 2015.